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Meet Pushpa Joshi, the granny from Ajay Devgn’s Raid

At around 86 years of age, the Madhya Pradesh-born lady is perhaps the oldest Indian actress to make her film debut.

Pushpa Joshi with Ajay Devgn

Mayur Lookhar

Ajay Devgn’s Raid was released on 16 March and the film has received largely good reviews. Apart from the fine plot, the film stands out for the stellar performances by its cast. While Devgn and Saurabh Shukla are true to potential, one artiste who stunned viewers is Pushpa Joshi.

Joshi played the dadi (paternal grandmother), who is no spring chicken, of the house raided by Amay Patnaik (Devgn). The lady has made a remarkable feature film debut at the age of around 86.  

Joshi reminds you of the late Zohra Sehgal, who did her last film aged 95, and French actress Emmanuelle Riva, who, at 85, became the oldest actress to get an Oscar nomination for her role in Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012). The two renowned actresses, however, made their name after working in the film industry for a long time, Joshi had her first tryst with the camera as an octogenarian.

Her impish sense of humour, natural talent and infectious energy have the ability to give much younger artistes a run for their money. It is something of a cliche to say that age is just a number, but Joshi has proved that adroitly with her inspiring act in Raid.

Facing the camera at this stage of her life was nothing short of a miracle for the Madhya Pradesh-born woman, who suffers from osteoporosis. “It is a miracle," she agreed. "I thank god for giving me this opportunity. I am thankful to Ajay Devgn, Saurabh Shukla, and the team for taking good care of me. At first, I thought these stars must be haughty, but I was touched by the warmth and love they showered on me. I would have never imagined to even meet these stars, leave alone acting with them. I had a great time shooting in Lucknow.”

Joshi’s son Ravindra has worked in theatre and had cast his mother in his short film Zaayka. Casting Bay, the casting team for Raid, saw the short film and called Joshi for an audition.

The lady had moved into her son's house in Mumbai a year and a half ago. Her grandson is singer Abhas Joshi, who achieved fame as a finalist in the inaugural season of the singing reality show Voice of India.

Was the octogenarian nervous during the audition?

‘I think they [the casting team] confused me for a woman from Lucknow," Joshi said. "But I hail from Jabalpur. Jabalpur or Lucknow, it's our Hindustan. After giving the audition, I prayed to god that I don’t get selected. However, my children and daughter-in-law motivated me. They felt that I should take this up.”

Ravindra Joshi informed Cinestaan.com that his mother was probably born around 1932-33 in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. At 14, she was married off to BR Joshi, a tehsildar (tax officer who accompanies the district revenue collectors) and shifted to neighbouring Harda district.

Due to the nature of her husband’s job, the family then kept moving across various towns and cities before settling in Jabalpur. The times were different then, particularly in the Hindi heartland, and women did not enjoy much freedom. Joshi, though, did not miss out on her share of entertainment.

“My father was a strict disciplinarian. Cinema wasn’t looked upon well. My brother used to act in Ramlila and I was greatly inspired by him. A friend of mine and I used to lie about going to the temple and watch plays. Then we saw films at open theatres. We didn’t forget to bring back prasad though," she joked. "After marriage, my husband was supportive.”

Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Waheeda Rehman, Beena Rai, Nirupama Roy and Lalita Pawar — these were Joshi’s favourites from the golden era of Hindi cinema. Raj Kapoor and Madhubala’s Neel Kamal (1947) is her favourite film. From the later lot, she admired Hema Malini and Sridevi. “I was shocked and saddened to hear of Sridevi’s death. I really liked her and Hema Malini,” she said.

Ravindra Joshi revealed that his mother shot for 12 days in Lucknow, and travelled to Mumbai for the climax scene.

“Usually, she needs a wheelchair to travel. Initially, her character was to be on the wheelchair, but director Raj Kumar Gupta felt that we should do away with the wheelchair and place her on the bed. We helped her prepare for her dialogues. Once the camera rolled, she showed her talent.”

With Saurabh Shukla

One of the gripping scenes in Raid is when Rameshwar Singh (Shukla) speaks rather rudely to his mother and shoves a jalebi (a deep-fried sweet) in her mouth. Was she intimidated while shooting the scene?

“No. She is too smart for all this," the son said. "She was informed of her scenes before. She was perfectly fine. At her age, one can’t shoot at length. The Raid team made her feel comfortable at every stage. She had a few more scenes that got edited, but we have no complaints. In fact, shoving that jalebi wasn’t part of the script. It was Saurabh Shukla’s improvisation.”

Pushpa Joshi has become popular with Raid but even before her maiden film was released, she had received a few plum offers.

“We were offered Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019) and Shahid Kapoor’s Batti Gul Meter Chalu (2018). Unfortunately, she couldn’t take up those. We have to keep her health in mind. If god grants her another opportunity, then she will surely be up for it," Ravindra said.

Like a true granny, Pushpa Joshi signed off by showering her blessings.